What Bryan Cranston taught me at 4:00am

A short, true story about an actor, cookies, and dreams.

What Bryan Cranston taught me at 4:00am
Bryan Cranston in Twas the Night (2001) and Breaking Bad (2013).

“Grab that cord will you… it’s time to eat!”

Mark called at me as I looked back with a blank stare. It was 3:00am on a Wednesday in October and snow was falling all around me. Well, it looked like snow but the texture was more like cotton and the flavour something like the coloured clip of a Bic clicky pencil. Plastic and artificial.

I am on a movie set and Mark, (a heavy grip) thinks I belong here.

“Common kid let’s go… I hear it’s prime rib.”

I have been coming here for the past two nights. Disney is filming a made for TV movie called Twas the Night starring Bryan Cranston a few doors down from my house. It’s the year 2000, years before Walter White and Heisenberg. Bryan is still Hal from Malcolm in The Middle and to me, he’s Dr. Tim Whatley from Seinfeld. I love Seinfeld and want to know everything about it.

I pile into one of the trucks and head down to the church to eat with the crew. The more I look around, the more I realize that Mark must know I don’t belong here. I am the youngest person in the truck by 15 years (I am only 15 myself but quite tall for my age). I decide he’s just letting me come along for the ride, letting me feel like I am working on a movie set… I like Mark.

The church basement is full of crew by the time we get there and the food is delicious. I don’t eat though, I am fixated on Bryan sitting a few tables over. I am working up the nerve to sit beside him. Before I can, everyone starts getting up and we pile up back into the trucks to head back over to the Selley’s driveway.

I am struck by the sheer size and complexity of movie making. There are 20 crew members, 6 cast members, 6 stand-ins, fake snow, lights, and a rigged car. All this for a made for TV movie. It takes 3 hours to shoot a 5 minute scene. It’s boring as hell and I love it.

Around 4:00, my chance finally comes. One of the gaffers yells that they are having a washing issue with one of the lights and in come the stand-ins and Bryan retires to the snack tent just off the driveway and grabs a cookie. I seize the opportunity and strike up a conversation.

Bryan is one of the easiest people to talk to. He asks me about school, asks me why I am here so late. Tells me how much he loves my neighbourhood and all the trees. Before I know it, we have been talking for 5 minutes and I haven’t asked him a single question. I figure this lighting problem will get fixed soon and I am running out of time.

I jump in and say, “What was it like working with Seinfeld?”

He laughs and says it was a great. Jerry is exactly like he is on the show and one of the nicest people he has ever met. Julia and Jason are the funniest on set and to everyone’s surprise Michael is quiet and nothing like Kramer.

I tell him that I loved his character and wished he had of made it into the series finale. He tells me that he did tape it, but in the end the finale ran long. There were too many good stories that the converted Jewish dentist didn’t make the cut… we were both disappointed.

I asked him what he was going to do next? Was he trying to get into movies or did he like TV better? I have never forgotten what he told me, and while I wrote it down when I got home, I lost the original. Here is what I remember him telling me.

“I don’t know what I am going to do next and for once that doesn’t worry me. When I was your age, I was worried. I wanted to do this and do that, I had plans. I don’t think like that anymore. I am proud of my career. I like where I am at. I have dreams sure, but I don’t worry about them. I just try and do good work and take things as they come. I love Malcolm in the Middle and am having fun. If we are canceled next year, I will find something else to do and if we go on for ten years, that would be great too. I kinda dodged the question didn’t I? Look, I love my job and try to always do great work. I also get to talk to people like you, visit nice places like Canada and get paid to eat cookies.”

He laughs.

I can’t remember what else we talked about after that. It was time for him to go and they were changing up one of his lines. He had to mention to milk and cookies now.

Fast forward and you can imagine my delight when I started watching Breaking Bad. Bryan has said many times that Walter White is the role of his life and came out of complete surprise. Seems like he kept true to his advice. He kept dreaming and kept doing great work. One day, someone noticed.

So have dreams. But don’t worry about them. Dreams are there to inspire and push you not cause you stress. Do great work everyday and take things as they come. One day, you will find yourself in the role of your life too.